The Overton Square Crawfish Fest has jumped the shark

Last Saturday I found myself with a choice. I could either attend Mpact’s Beyond College event, and teach graduating college students how to network, interview, and find a job; or I could attend the Overton Square Crawfish Fest, and eat crawfish and get drunk. You can probably guess which event won out.

It was a nice day and I decided to walk to Overton Square from downtown. We’re having a contest at work to see who can walk the most steps in a 2-week period, so I had a pedometer on. It took me an hour and five minutes and 7700 steps to get there, but it was a beautiful April day and I didn’t mind.

The Overton Square crawfish fest used to be one of my favorite outdoor festivals of the year, but this year it jumped the shark. True, it was well-attended, but it wasn’t well organized and was way too expensive. I had to wait in a line of at least 70 people to get a box of crawfish; even during peak times, I can’t remember lines of over 15 in previous years. Also, five years ago I paid $5 and got a huge box of crawfish with a tater and a piece of corn (there’s nothing like vegetables cooked in the pot with crawfish and that spicy Cajun seasoning). This year, I paid $10 for a much smaller box of crawfish, no tater, no corn. I could barely tell I ate at all. It was more like an appetizer than a meal.

The beer was too expensive as well. $3.50 for a 16-ounce Michelob draft? Come on, even the outdoor bars on Beale Street don’t charge that much! A lot of people chose to skip the official beer table, hit the nearby convenience store, and buy 40s to sneak in. And the people manning the beer table were not nice at all. I got really bad energy from them, and didn’t tip, which is unusual for me, but I just didn’t like them. A guy in front of me in line had accidentally left change for a $50 sitting on the table, and it was gone when he came back to claim it, and the people behind the table were downright rude: “Well, ANYBODY could come up and say they left their change.” I didn’t expect them to pull 50 bucks out the register and hand it to him, but they could have been a lot nicer about it.

Then there was the bathroom situation. In past years, they’ve had entire rows of porta-johns available for use. This year they had TWO – one men’s and one women’s – for the 600 to 1000 people that attended. What were they thinking? When I coordinated an outdoor music event in Court Square, I was told the rule of thumb was one porta-john for every 75 people. There were long lines all afternoon, and I never remember waiting at all in previous years. I just snuck in nearby restaurants and used their bathrooms instead.

Not that the fest was all bad – the people made it worthwhile. I had several groups of friends there to hang out with, and I caught a ride back downtown with some people afterward and we had a few drinks at Sleep Out’s. The bands that played were excellent. And the weather couldn’t be better – sunny and 65 degrees.

I’ll be back next year, but I’m going to eat before I go, and if I feel like having a beer I’m going to keep that convenience store in mind. I hope that the Bayou Bar & Grill, which puts on the festival, focuses more on execution, logistics, and customer experience next year.

What I’m looking forward to, though, is the downtown crawfish fest Sunday, April 17. The downtown fest used to suck because they ran out of crawfish too early, but in recent years they’ve solved that problem and it is now far and away the better crawfish festival. Last year yhey had huge buckets, enough to fill you up, for $10, and they gave away the first 500 pounds for free. Looking forward to that one. See you on the 17th!